Charles S. Whitman photo

Charles S. Whitman

Charles Seymour Whitman was born on September 29, 1868, in Hanover, Connecticut. He was the son of Rev. John Seymour Whitman and Lillie Arne Whitman. His father and grandfather were Presbyterian ministers.
     He spent a year studying at Adelbert College and a year studying at William College, then attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, graduating from Amherst in 1890. After graduation, he moved to New York City, working as a teacher and studying law at New York University. He was admitted to the bar in 1894 and began a career as an attorney. From 1901 to 1903, He  was Assistant Corporation Counsel of New York City from 1901 to 1903. In 1902, Corporation Council Rives assigned Whitman to watch legislation relating to New York City in Albany. In the process, Whitman began to gain growing prominence in politics. New York City Mayor Seth Low appointed Whitman appointed him as a city magistrate. 
     Whitman served as a city magistrate from 1904 to 1907. During his time as a magistrate, he sought to break a group of bail bondsman, who were profiting of bribing policemen to make questionable arrests and bailing out those who were arrested. As part of this, he campaigned for the city to create a night court, so that palpably innocent people wouldn’t have to spend a night in jail or have to deal with those bail bondsmen. In 1906, he became chairman of the city’s board of magistrates. In 1907, Whitman was appointed as a municipal judge in New York City’s Court of Sessions. In 1908, he acted as deputy attorney general to investigate election fraud in the state. 
     In 1908, Whitman married his first wife, Olive Hitchcock. They had two children, Olive and Charles.
     Whitman ran for New York County District Attorney in 1909, as a fusion candidate with the co-nominations of the Republican Party, the Prohibition Party, and the Independence League. He defeated the Tammany Hall backed Democratic candidate and was elected. He served as District Attorney from 1910-1914. While District Attorney, he gained statewide and national attention for his investigations into graft and corruption in the New York City police force. Most notably, he prosecuted former police officer Charles Becker for the murder of whistleblower Herman Rosenthal.
     In 1914, the Republican Party nominated Whitman as their candidate for Governor of New York.  The Prohibition Party had nominated former Democratic governor William Sulzer, who had taken on the Tammany Hall political machine and had consequently  been impeached.  The Democratic Party, with the backing of Tammany Hall, nominated Gov. Martin H. Glynn, who had served as governor for the remainder of Sulzer's term. While Sulzer was unable to regain the governor’s office in 1914, his strong performance helped to ensure that Glynn couldn’t win either.  Whitman won re-election in 1916 as the candidate of the Republican Party, the Progressive Party, and the Independence League.   As Governor, Whitman focused on reforming the state’s finances, reorganizing various state departments, and investigating the salary system for state employees. 
     During his time as governor, the New York State Police was established and statewide women’s suffrage was established.  Whitman worked to organize and facilitate state support for the war effort. Governor Whitman supported the effort to pass the 18th Amendment in the state, and worked to rally support for ratifying it in the state legislature.
       Whitman ran for a third term for Governor in 1918.  In addition, to seeking the Republican nomination for governor, he also sought the nomination of the Prohibition Party. In addition, Eugene M. Travis, the incumbent Republican State Comptroller and a supporter of prohibition, sought the Republican and Prohibition Party nominations for State Comptroller.
     Initially, the New York Prohibition Party had planned to nominate state party chairman Olin S. Bishop for Governor and Claude V. Stowell for State Comptroller. Bishop and Stowell were endorsed at the Party’s state convention, but Whitman and Travis were able to run in the Party’s primary. A number of prominent figures in the state Prohibition Party supported Whitman in the primary, including John McKee, Francis Baldwin, Charles Welch, and Henry Randall. Olin S. Bishop reportedly had made statements that he would be fine if Whitman won the nomination. Support for nominating Whitman seems to had been significantly motivated by the prospect of securing the passage of the 18th Amendment and establishing national prohibition, though some members of the Party were concerned as to how strongly committed Whitman and Travis were to the cause of Prohibition -- whether Whitman and Travis would hold to their word that they would help ensure the passage of the 18th Amendment and ensure the enactment of Prohibition in New York State.  Some members therefore backed Bishop and Stowell in the primaries, but, in the end, Whitman and Travis had enough support to win the Prohibition Party primaries. 
     The Republican and Prohibition parties nominated Whitman for Governor and Travis for State Comptroller, while each party nominated its own separate candidates for Lieutenant Governor, New York Secretary of State, State Attorney General, State Treasurer, and State Engineer.
      In the general election, Whitman ran against Democratic Party candidate Alfred E. Smith (who was strongly opposed to prohibition and was supported by Tammany Hall), Socialist Party candidate Charles W. Ervin, and Socialist Labor Party candidate Olive M. Johnson. The election was close, and Whitman narrowly lost re-election to Smith. Whitman had received 995,094 votes and 46.68% of the statewide vote in total. He received 956,034 votes on the Republican ticket and 38,794 on the Prohibition Party ticket. Smith received 1,009,936 votes and 47.37% of the vote. 
      Writers in the Journal of the American Bar Association speculated that Whitman’s loss in the 1918 election may have been due to a combination of a major subway train accident in New York City days before the election, which some newspapers blamed the Whitman administration for not preventing, and insufficient provisions for absentee voting for New Yorkers who were overseas at the time. 
     Eugene Travis did succeed in getting elected to another term as State Comptroller. 
     After leaving office, Whitman returned to practicing law. He became one of the founding members of the law firm Whitman, Ottinger, and Ransom (later re-named Whitman, Ransom, Coulson, and Goetz).  He had been active in the American Bar Association since 1913 and, during 1923-1926, he chaired a committee in the state bar association studying the causes of crime and designing recommended changes to laws and legal practices to try to reduce crime.  In 1926, he became president of the American Bar Association and served in that position from 1926-1927. 
     He also remained involved in politics andin  public service.  In 1920, he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention.  He  worked with the New York Fusion Committees,  encouraging different parties to come together to nominate fusion candidates in opposition to Tammany Hall.
      In 1925, Whitman ran again for New York County District Attorney, but he was not elected.
      On May 29, 1926, his first wife, Olive Hitchcock Whitman died. In 1933, he married his second wife, Thelma Somerville Grosvenor. 
       Whitman was appointed a commissioner for the Port of New York Authority in 1935. In 1945, he was chairman of the Committee on Port Planning. 
     Whitman died on March 29, 1947, and was buried at Westlawn Cemetery, in Williamstown, Massachusetts.


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-- Contributed by Jonathan Makeley